An Open Letter to President Petillo

Dear President Petillo,

Soon after the University announced that Republican nominee Donald J. Trump would be speaking at our institution, you, as president of Sacred Heart University, released a blog post defending the decision to allow Mr. Trump to have access to our main campus for a campaign rally.

Here is the link to the post for any outside reader:(

Some quick facts:

1. Trump’s rally was announced only a few days prior to the August 13th event.

2. Ms. McMahon was graciously acknowledged at the event by Donald Trump.

3. You were out of town, (presumably on vacation) when the event was announced via email.

4. Trump events have a history of being violent.

5. Trump has unarguably encouraged violence at his events.

After reading the post, I was disappointed at the fallacious logic that you provided in defense of this decision. I expect a president of a university to provide a stronger rationale and logic in defense of a decision as significant as this one. This decision has led professors of our reputable institution to publicly announce their disagreement with allowing Mr. Trump to have a venue on our campus. After all, Mr. Trump has been denied to speak at several venues in the past. Your logic relies on several main premises. One being, that since this decision is not an endorsement from the University, it is not a sponsored event. The second being, that if we were to deny Mr. Trump, we would either be pro-Hillary or that we would have had to deny Hillary’s venue request if her campaign were to make one. And third, as a liberal arts college that embraces the Catholic intellectual tradition, we should be strong listeners so that we can make informed decisions.

Before dismantling these three premises, I begin by stating that this is not a pro-Hillary blog post. This post is about Trump as an individual and what he stands for and the decision making process to allow him to campaign on our campus. Just because he is the Republican nominee, does not automatically grant him a free pass to any academic institution. By that logic, if a living Osama Bin Ladin had been the Republican nominee, he would be given the opportunity to speak at our institution. Also, it is important to note that I do not take issue with Republican primary candidate John Kasich’s campaign rally on campus last April. Diverse political discourse is fundamental to the liberal arts. I welcome debate. However, my position with this blog post is NOT based on political ideology. It is based on ethics, moral integrity, and my sense of responsibility as a proud student of this reputable academic institution. Donald J. Trump is not a suitable speaker to preach his ideas and beliefs given his history of xenophobia and enticement to violence. There is a difference between political policy and fallacious slander. In fact, I don’t think that you believe Mr. Trump has the intellectual ability to provide sound and logical arguments to educate those who attend the event. I refuse to believe for one second that you were jumping out of your seat to get Mr. Trump to speak at our campus. This is why that this decision has everything to do with politics and money, and not the Catholic intellectual tradition that you invoke in your blog. However, it is easily perceived that it has everything to do with a member of the Board of Trustees- Ms. Linda McMahon. She not only is a member of the Republican party who spent tens of millions of dollars of personal funds to run for a U.S. senate seat, but also was one of Donald Trump’s delegates at the Republican National Convention. Most of the student body knows of her only because her multi-million dollar donation to put her name on one of our buildings. The reality is that your decision to allow Donald Trump on campus demonstrates that you have minimal power up against any member of the board of trustees, especially Ms. McMahon- a woman with significant political power in Connecticut. It just so happens as one of the most powerful members of our institution, she endorses Mr. Trump. My question is, where is the transparency with the decision to allow Trump to campaign on campus? As of now, there is none, and students at Sacred Heart University whether for or against this decision deserve more transparency, especially with a decision that is so contentious.

The first premise I addressed may make sense- the idea that the University is not endorsing him. However, we have a trustee member who publicly does endorse him. The fact is that although in political jargon Sacred Heart University did not give an “endorsement”, this is an enablement. When you bring someone to an academic institution with an incredible amount of power and wealth (not qualifications), the institution will be associated with the speaker. And by taking Mr. Trump’s money, Sacred Heart is sending a message that if you have the connection (Ms. McMahon), money (we want to know how much), and fame (still not a qualification), we will let you speak despite what your academic credentials or qualifications are, and most importantly, what you espouse. Renting a facility requires approval. We may not be officially endorsing this event, but we are arguably sponsoring it since university resources were used to advertise the event (via email and our school’s website). Would we allow the Ku Klux Klan to hold a rally on our campus (a national organization that Trump and his campaign was reluctant to denounce, even after David Duke’s endorsement), even if we didn’t officially “endorse” it?

The second premise that I would like to address is that if we did not allow Trump access to our facilities, “we would eliminate candidates from both parties and would be absent from the discussion and the democratic process.” As previously mentioned, if we were to deny Trump access to our institution, it does not automatically mean that we are pro-Hillary. In fact, by your own logic, the decision to allow Mr. Trump to speak at our institution is not an endorsement. Therefore, why must we have to deny both candidates if neither would be “endorsed” in the first place? Denying candidates to speak at our university does not take us away from the democratic process. In fact, that very action would be taking part in the democratic process. Either way, how can this decision truly be part of the democratic process if professors and students were not advised or taken into consideration? Being a member of high office or having a political name tag does not supersede our institution’s responsibility to the common good. Donald Trump’s promotion of xenophobia, religious intolerance, and violence do not belong on our campus. By denying Trump access, our liberal arts education is not undermined.

The third argument that you make, which is essentially the title of your article, “Informed Decisions are Driven By Listening” is the weakest. I ask, what did Mr. Trump say during his speech on our campus that was substantive, creditable, backed with strong evidence, or new? I also ask, who does Trump listen to? How many times has he kicked people out of his own rallies? And finally, who did you listen to before making this decision? We have already heard his misinformed and unprecedented words of hate, bigotry, xenophobia, racism, religious intolerance and incitement of violence. Dr. Petillo, you are smart enough to realize that nothing of great wisdom was going to be said. What is the true reason for risking our institution’s reputation, integrity, and safety?

The irony of your blog title is that it was a misinformed decision to allow Trump a venue to speak. The decision-making process was between only a few people of power. And if it was a choice that you did not agree with (and I hope it was), as president of the University, you should have gone down fighting tooth and nail to preserve SHU’s integrity. I am deeply saddened to be a student of an institution that allowed someone who is divisive through hate speech to promote his ideas. You write that “tolerance of and exposure to one another’s opinions and concerns is a foundation of the liberal arts and the Catholic intellectual tradition.” This may be true. Unfortunately, these core values of the CIT that you invoke does not mean that anyone of any opinion that is violent and xenophobic should be allowed to pay their way to speak at at SHU. Should we allow an event where a Muslim, African-American, Latino student or faculty member would fear for their safety?

This decision has led me to deduce that at our institution, money trumps ideals. I believe that you owe the student body, professors, alumni, and other members of the Sacred Heart community some answers to specific questions regarding the decision to allow Mr. Trump to campaign on our campus. It is my hope that you will educate us with answers and help the many members of our community that want to understand the decision making process.

  1. Why was the event announced only a few days prior to the event, thereby eliminating any opportunity of dialogue and discourse regarding the decision?
  2. How long has this event been in the planning process?
  3. What was Linda McMahon’s role and influence in bringing Mr. Trump to campus? Did she pay for the renting of the Pitt Center? Either directly to SHU or through the Trump campaign? How much money did SHU gain from renting out the facility?
  4. How do you justify not being on campus for a visit of the, in your words, “duly selected Republican nominee for president of the United States”?
  5. Do you believe that there is any hate speech that should be barred from the SHU campus?

Nicolas Kristof of the NYT writes that Trump is mainstreaming hate ( Sadly, our institution just helped Mr.Trump do exactly that.

Adyel Duran

Sacred Heart University ‘17